How I took 3rd place in the largest hackathon in the world with more than 3k people

How I took 3rd place in the largest hackathon in the world with more than 3k people

Greeting. My name is Dima Karpov, at the moment I am a product in the top 1 edTech company Skyeng, ex-Head of product beeline. And in this article, I decided to share the coolest experience of participating in a hackathon with more than 3k people!

When I was still a master’s student in the “Economics of the Firm” program at St. Petersburg State University, I had the chance to become a prize winner in a hackathon, which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest hackathon in the world! I will tell you how the championship is held and what techniques help to win in such competitions.

About the hackathon

Digital Breakthrough is currently the largest hackathon in the world. This record was entered in the Guinness Book of Records: three and a half thousand participants developed solutions for the largest companies in Russia within forty-eight hours!

There were several stages, the first standard online selection. We were given 50 tests of various directions: from design to programming. It was necessary to decide on the maximum number. At this stage, out of 66 thousand people, 19 thousand remained.

The main task of the next stage was to find a team and arrive at the specified time for the regional stage, the victory of which gave a ticket to the finals.

The total prize pool was 10 million rubles. 200 million rubles – grant support. In addition, of course, the opportunity to get a job — participants are carefully watched by employers and the best are invited.

About the team and communications

During the first stage, the system formed a portfolio of competencies of each participant and awarded a rating. The more points you have, the higher the probability of getting into a team with strong participants.

I found a formed team that lacked a marketer and a project manager. Nice match with my profile! I called the guys, told them about my motivation and interests, and they immediately accepted me. Other participants (three programmers and a designer) work in a serious IT company and have good practical experience.

The division of roles was obvious. We had a team leader – he set a common vector of work, frontend and backend developers, I was responsible for finance and promotion, the designer – for visualization. We worked according to Agile principles – sprints, checking statuses and that’s all.

Difficulties arose in communications due to completely different backgrounds. Here it is important to understand that compromises must be sought. That’s why we decided at the start a decision maker. And even if the interests diverged, the weights were as follows: an expert in his field had a decision-making factor equal to one, the rest 0.4.

So if I’m told by marketing that my decision isn’t very good, my 1 score against 1.6 from others tells me that I need to listen and change something. But if there are three against (1.2 points), then the final decision is mine, because with the second participant we have 1.4.

About preparation

To be honest, we practically did not prepare for the regional stage. As soon as the organizers laid out the list of topics, we set priorities in two days. And they just came to the competition.

We faced the task of creating a product for housing and communal services structures – a chatbot for users. We did not establish time management, and as a result, we did not have time to complete the entire scope of work. The work was not systematic enough, but it was our first teamwork.

When the defenses ended, I was 100% sure that we would go to the next stage, I liked our pitch and product so much. Of course, we waited for the results with excitement anyway, because when our team was named among the winners, we were overwhelmed with excitement.

We told ourselves that we would prepare thoroughly for the final stage and not make old mistakes: we lost a lot of time because the system was not built in advance

The final was held in Kazan, and we started preparations in exactly one month. We met every week and discussed the format in which we would work, worked out potential cases and devoted a significant amount of time to the preparation of the final performance. After all, those seven minutes given in the final are the most important.! We’ve seen so many teams that had a great and strong product, but with a weak defense, they didn’t win. We looked at the best practices of nutrition, including protection before investors in foreign countries. We did benchmarking and took only the best tools in our opinion.

About the product

In the final, we made a product commissioned by ANO “Russia the Land of Opportunities”, which is closely related to the state. They had a request to create an ecosystem to monitor student/graduate employment.

It is important for the Ministry of Education to get honest statistics about what students do after university and where they go to work. Only with this data can an effective educational policy be developed. The main task was to create a system that would unite universities, employers and students/graduates

We started from the premise that the main problem is the lack of motivation among graduates to share information about their workplace. Therefore, we decided to offer the user a profitable exchange — to imagine a platform with the help of which he can easily build a vector to the company of his dreams. He only needs to upload information about himself: certificates, diplomas and portfolio.

A person is authorized through the “Services” portal and adds his data. The system selects suitable companies, offers both available options and possible ones in the future, which lack skills at this stage. If the dream company is not currently available, the system provides a list of recommendations: courses or training programs. In the end, the user reaches the goal – gets the dream job.

In this way, users get access to the best employers, companies get access to a highly developed labor market, and higher education institutions get honest statistics.

About protection

The defense took place in two stages. At the pre-defense, which consisted of a short conversation with technical experts, 12 teams were selected. And we had enough points to go to the main training ground.

There was supposed to be a defense, and we thought about how to conduct it better. It was possible to go the standard way: to present the product as everyone else does, based on five main criteria – performance, design, economy, scalability, idea.

And it was possible to concentrate on the idea itself and at the same time try to convey the idea that we are the team that will undertake to organize any project, that we have all the competencies for this.

And we went the second way. If at the regional stage our presentation was very saturated with various metrics, we tried to chew each point on a separate slide (due to this, we did not even put a little effort into the timing), then the final presentation consisted of four slides: about the idea, about finances and development, about the team.

At the regional stage, it looked like this:

And at the finals like this:

Yes, yes, it didn’t fit in my head either. But, we decided to take a risk, and we were not mistaken.

About the final

I thought we would be in the top 5, because the competition in Kazan was ten times higher than in the region. But when the protocols were laid out, it turned out that we came third in our section! All the efforts we made and all the work were converted into a prize place. Just amazing feelings.

We were one step away from the first place, but because we decided to focus on developing the idea, the technical part did not receive maximum marks

In fact, we were sure that it is possible to write better code outside these walls, but the product concept needs to be shown and justified right here and now in all colors.

We were offered a grant in the amount of three million rubles for the implementation of the idea, but according to our calculations, this budget was not enough. Everyone in the team works in large companies, and going to a startup without sufficient funding is a risky business. We decided to refuse.

But everyone gained tremendous experience and useful contacts. An invitation to a meeting received from the President of the Intellectual Property Federation was an unexpected gift.

We proved to ourselves that we are capable of many things, and this is far from the last victory.

The experience of participating in case championships, startup competitions and hackathons helped to achieve a high result. Knowledge of marketing and economics, of course, was also needed. Nowhere without it. EkFak – One Love!

9 tips for participants: how to win in similar competitions

  1. Use a comprehensive and systematic approach

  2. Introduce Agile methodologies in management

  3. Remember the timing and distribution of tasks

  4. Be different from others, be original

  5. Work on team branding

Our team is “Eigenspace” or “free space”. A kind of multitude. Individual vectors, where each has its own identifier. We also launched a product under our brand: it was not just an autonomous system for employment, it was able to build its own vector of development. We came to the hackathon wearing branded t-shirts

6. Print handouts for the judges, where you will display the essence of the project

Use one-page business plan templates, print them in large format on quality paper. By default, we used the Lean Canvas template. It was beautifully decorated, and information about the team was placed on the back. Remember brevity and readability, both in the presentation and in other materials

7. Spend a lot of time preparing your defense

Do not make mistakes in the language. Add “hooks” that will hold the attention of the judges and the audience. Leave them a little hungry so they want to ask questions. Think about how to structure your presentation so that they ask exactly what you want. This will save the time of the main speech and will perfectly close the pool of questions. Remember that protection does not have to be standard

8. Don’t hesitate to turn to experts. Experts advised us during this hackathon. If you come across something like this, don’t get lost. The more you contact them, the more likely they will remember you. And they will remember it from a good side. As Stephen Covey said, be proactive.

9. Assign roles in advance

And decide in advance on the speaker who will defend the final case. You can go out together, but it is better that one person protects all the work, two at most. Then the judges will stay in focus

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